Most of the Scripture and commentary in this section sumarrizes Brian W. Harrison "Onan's Real Sin", This Rock, April 1997, pp.40-42.
The Problem: From the foundation of Christianity, for the course of nearly two millenia, all Christian denominations without exception condemned the use of artificial birth control as an intrinsic evil. Within the last two hundred years, new concepts of social engineering and eugenics have run riot through European and American society. These concepts, which reached an apex in Europe in the early part of this century, influenced a 1930 conference of Anglican bishops held in Lambeth, England to such an extent that eugenicists actually took part in the conference. The Anglicans, after study and in light of social pressures, concluded that artificial birth control could be used by married couples only, and only under certain extreme circumstances. With this ruling, the Anglican Church broke ranks with all other Christian denominations and the constant teaching of all Christianity. The floodgates opened. Within twenty years, every major Christian denomination but one had fallen away from a teaching two millenia old. Every major Christian denomination but one.
The Truth: The use of artificial birth control is an intrinsic evil, being an act which destroys not only the procreative but the unitive aspects of the sexual act. The use of artificial fertilization is also wrong, and made more heinous by the use of active elements, sperm or ovum, which derive from a third party, not least because it breaks the essential unitive aspect of the marital act. However, the use of medical treatment which permits the completion of the marital act between husband and wife, or which enhances the fertility of this act, is acceptable.
Gen 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
Consider the case of Judah and his son Onan. In the Old Testament, family lines had to be preserved. If a man died before his wife bore him offspring, it was the duty of the man's brother or father to bring forth offspring for his dead brother's/son's line by having relations with the dead brother's wife until she conceived.
Gen 38:6-10 And Judah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar. 7 But Er, Judah's first-born, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, "Go in to your brother's wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother." 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother's wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. 10 And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also.
Some argue that Onan was killed for his failure to do his duty, not because of his practice of birth control. However, after Onan's death, it was Judah's duty to bring forth children for his dead son's line. But Judah did not do his duty either, nor did he fulfill his promises.
Gen 38:11-18 Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, "Remain a widow in your father's house, till Shelah my son grows up"for he feared that he would die, like his brothers. So Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house.
12 In course of time the wife of Judah, Shua's daughter, died; and when Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite 13 And when Tamar was told, "Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep," 14 she put off her widow's garments, and put on a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot, for she had covered her face. 16 He went over to her at the road side, and said, "Come, let me come in to you," for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, "What will you give me, that you may come in to me?" 17 He answered, "I will send you a kid from the flock." And she said, "Will you give me a pledge, till you send it?" 18 He said, "What pledge shall I give you?" She replied, "Your signet and your cord, and your staff that is in your hand." So he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him.
Gen 38:25-26 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, "By the man to whom these belong, I am with child." And she said, "Mark, I pray you, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff." 26 Then Judah acknowledged them and said, "She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah." And he did not lie with her again.
Though Judah did not do his familial duty, nor did he allow his son to carry out that duty, neither Judah nor his son Shelah were killed. Onan's death, therefore, did not result from his failure to do his familial duty, but resulted from some other aspect of his behaviour. Onan willingly undertook the act which would normally bring about new life, but he actively tried to close off the possibility that such a life would be engendered. Onan engaged in a form of birth control, Judah did not.
There is a further consideration. What are the penalties Scripture prescribes for failing to marry the wife of one's dead brother, as opposed to the wasting of seed?
Deut 25:7-10 And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders, and say, 'My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.' 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak to him: and if he persists, saying, 'I do not wish to take her,' 9 then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say, 'So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.' 10 And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, The house of him that had his sandal pulled off.
If the man refuses to keep up the lineage, the man is simply struck with his own shoe and spat upon. He is not killed. The act which wastes seed is dealt with much more harshly:
Lev 18:22-23, 20:13 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 And you shall not lie with any beast and defile yourself with it, neither shall any woman give herself to a beast to lie with it: it is perversion.... If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.
THIS is the act which warrants the death penalty. We are supposed to take the same joy in the generative act that God took in the act of Creation. Wasting or destroying the materials with which one creates is not joyful, it tears down creation just as the serpent attempted to tear down Creation.
Early Christians' comments on Homosexuality
Scripture always refers to acceptable acts of intercourse in general terms, i.e., "going into" his wife or "knowing" her. When the description is more explicit, e.g., "lying with" someone or "uncovering ... nakedness", the reference is always to shameful or sinful acts. The description of Onan's act was very explicit.
Rom 1:25-27 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
Sexuality which is closed off to the possibility of procreation is sinful.
Jer 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you...
God's greatest gifts are children.
Psalm 127:3-5 Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. 5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
Psalm 128:3,5-6 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. 4 Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. 5 The Lord bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! 6 May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!
Gen 18:13-14, 21:1-2 The Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son."... The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.
Gen 25:21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived..
Gen 29:31-32 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, "Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; surely now my husband will love me."
Gen 30:22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her and opened her womb.
It is no coincidence that the first three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all suffered from the curse of infertility. The curses meted out to Adam as a result of his infidelity towards God reverberated through the subsequent covenant between God and man. Mankind learns that it is only the Lord who gives life, and that life is a gift from God.
Is 45:9-11 "Woe to him who strives with his Maker, an earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it, 'What are you making'? or 'Your work has no handles'? 10 Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' or to a woman, 'With what are you in travail?'" 11 Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: "Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands?
Jn 15:1-17 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 This I command you, to love one another.
Contraception expresses hatred for one's own flesh, a wish for sterility instead of the fecundity which is the natural order of a healthy body.
Phil 3:2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
While Paul was talking here about the Jewish converts who insisted on circumcising Gentiles, the warning seems to be an uncomfortably accurate description of surgical sterilization.
Eph 5:29-32 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32 This mystery is a profound one, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church...
Fyodor Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, put it best when he had the defense attorney at the trial of a man accused of parricide say: "The conventional answer to (the question "Who is my father?") is: 'He begot you, and you are his flesh and blood, and therefore you are bound to love him.' The youth involuntarily reflects: 'But did he love me when he begot me?' he asks, wondering more and more, 'Was it for my sake he begot me? He did not know me, not even my sex, at that moment, at the moment of passion, perhaps, inflamed by wine..."
"Did he love me when he begot me?" When we actively put up chemical or physical walls between ourselves, our lover, and the child which, perhaps, might be begotten, will we truly have loved that child into existence, as God loved us into existence? Are we acting in the image of the living God?
Early Christians' comments on Birth Control